It proved to be somewhat akin to providence that morning when I was able to discern an uber-quotient of unhinged luminosity that was pulsing near one of the twin spiral galaxies from which the tawny owl receives inspiration on an irregular and quixotic basis, either NGC3314a or NGC3314b. I stepped outside of the front door to retrieve my ritualistic daily newspaper and found both slim sections of the meager rag tied neatly into one piece without having to crawl through treacherous brambles on my scabby elbows and knees. I was immediately concerned. A fresh lump of mottled bird shit had been plopped down beside it. I began to look for countervailing contradictions. The slippery fog had yet to burn off over Monterey Bay. A variegated northerly swell was proceeding apace from the Aleutians. The waves at Pleasure Point were head high and higher. There was a red squirrel dropping half-eaten acorns from an oak tree that seemed to be aimed in the area between my ears, but he missed. Presumably, that is. Unless he was a she.
Then I heard, resoundingly, “We gotta get out of this place…if it’s the last thing we ever do.” Not once, and not twice. Beyond that, it was hard to be sure. There was considerable dizziness involved.
The song stopped me nearly in my meandering tracks. Nothing in my mind beats a good escape. I felt as if a gloppy old soap opera was rewinding nearby on a VCR. Instinctively, I bopped right along with the beat. The day had hardly begun and already I was displaying retrogressive tendencies. Something was rising from down deep and descending from up high.
I know that sentimental oldie as well as I know the best and most hasty retreats from nearly any back door. I know where it comes from and where it inevitably ends up. My bones used to be unmarked and nearly whole back in my hazier days, which were neither here nor there, but somewhere else entirely, and were in retrospect far enough out there to have little or no redeeming value. Admittedly, I may have forgotten the particulars. But, I know that I am not alone in the squalid area of old bones rattling.
The simplistic progression of chords was followed by branches swaying like contrapuntal fairies in the lighter than heavy air, by wrinkly leaves plunging prematurely at unsafe speeds to the ground, and an emphatic, rousing, and funky, “Uh huh, uh huh,” which is the only kind to have and to hold when you get right down to the real nitty-gritty.
The voice carried the unmatched timbre of the lovely wife of the tawny owl, Thee Mrs., who is able to replicate authentic sounds from the entire history of rhythm and blues since Clyde McPhatter. But who was that on the back-up vocals? I knew it could not be the voice of Eric Burdon, nor any of the other pasty-faced bipedal thieves and pretenders fraudulently known in Anglo-Saxon mythology as The Animals.
Briefly, I paused to reflect. What other choices did I have? There were several luminous interpretations that occurred to me. Patti LaBelle? Mavis Staples? Fontella Bass? None were, or could ever be, coincidental. But, when the regurgitated head of a small rat landed at my feet, I knew the answer, or at least its prelude, could not be far behind. Unless that was a large mouse. The tawny owl appeared on a low branch of the redwood tree that towered over me, and he said, “The beautiful birds need you to create another diversion.”
I said, “Do I have to become seriously injured this time?”
“That’s up to you.”
“I’ll try to avoid it.”
“Where am I headed?”
“You’ll know where when you get there.”
I received my directions and my motivation, though not my character, along with a few plausible tips for survival. Although I’d certainly been fooled before, I anticipated a fully fleshed character was bound to follow. I loaded my car with enough empty boxes to obscure my vision from all side and rear windows and set off down the coast. According to the tawny owl, I needed to concentrate on the straight ahead, though not the narrow.
I drove south on Highway One all the way to Big Sur before I began to backtrack.
“Why backtrack,” I had asked the tawny owl?
“Don’t worry,”he said. “Be happy.”
It was lucky that the empty boxes obscured my vision on the hairpin curves that usually make me feel dizzy on that stretch of road. I managed to find my designated turnaround by squinting at the edge of a cliff that dropped two hundred feet to a secluded beach. I paused as required for decompression purposes before descending ass first. If not that, what? It took all of the know-how I could muster. There was a bare minimum of bleeding that showed from behind. When I scurried back up, more blood stains appeared from the usual spots on my elbows and knees.
I backtracked as far as the turnoff to Pebble Beach and I proceeded squarely from there. I paused at lucky Mile 7.7 on the 17 Mile Drive only long enough to scratch profoundly at the sand stuck in my crotch, and then waited in relative silence. I had a good view of a hastily erected stage above the ocean. It was adjacent to the 18th green at Cypress Point Golf Course.
I watched in repressed fascination as the Beverly Hills Rat approached a pint sized microphone and prepared to squeak deeply. He started by smearing an oily residue into his glistening chest. I think it originated in his nose. According to the pre-packaged program, the topic concerned the cartoonish fate of his missing property, Woodsy Owl, who unbeknownst to all but the beautiful birds who had sprung him from his gilded cage, was flying freely in the Santa Lucia Mountains not far away. The sniveling rat was flanked by two bad ass feline motherfuckers, a matching pair of fat Persian cats fresh out of Compton, his mercenary bodyguards. They were the color of Godiva chocolates. Seated next to them, on a Louis XIV fauteil upholstered in a luxe VIP velvet, Clint Eastwood was holding up a holographically enhanced image of the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney, and nodding off in the sunshine. He had no lines to speak and nothing better to do, though he smelled something fishy blowing in the wind. A once empty seat designated for Tiger Woods, who politely but firmly had declined the invitation, was being filled by Ted Nugent. He was bobbing up and down and spewing dark wads of gunk like a misdirected blow job. Unless that was Paula Deen.
The only word I could make out clearly from the rat was, “Hocktooey.”
When the time came for action, however, I was ready, sort of. The tawny owl gave the preliminary signal.
He said, “Let’s pick up the pace now.”
I said, “I just got here, sort of.”
He said, “You don’t have to tell me. I’ma be up all night laughing my ass off every time I remember you slipping farther down into that dirt.”
“While your ass is laughing, my ass is bleeding.”
Laughing a little louder, he said, “You got that right.”
I said, “I think my ass may be beginning to hurt worse.”
He concluded, “Well, yeah, like…duh.”
Finally, I heard my cue for real, not sort of. What was fishy was no fish at all. It arose atonally from the ocean and bobbed on the edge. The humpback whale who appeared to be light taupe started to wail in a style reminiscent of Sun Ra. Unless it was more like Albert Ayler mixed in with a tad of Cecil Taylor. And unless the whale was really more dark ecru than light taupe. But, no matter. I accelerated all the way to the dissonant end. I rammed the metal to the pedal. Unless it was the pedal that got rammed.
I hit the big rock guarding the eighteenth fairway precisely as I had hit the big rock guarding the gate at Grassy Knolls in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the surprising anniversary of the Catastrophe of 1949. My air bag popped out and broke my nose in all of the same familiar places. That was no less than to be expected. In time, I woke up.
Much later, when I returned from the emergency room, the tawny owl was perched in the redwood tree above my driveway. His positive attitude was moderately touching. I was not surprised to hear him laughing his ass off.
I said, “It’s a good thing the tween twins are not here this week to see what’s become of me in my condition.”
The tawny owl said, “If my face looked like that, I’d want to hide it, too.”
I said, “At least this time they won’t assume I’m only out here talking to myself again.”